Hur­dles have to be re­moved for na­tion’s food se­cu­rity

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

TNo 1 Cen­tral Doc­u­ment once again high­lights the im­por­tance of mod­ern­iz­ing agri­cul­ture. But many ob­sta­cles have to be over­come be­fore agri­cul­ture can be truly mod­ern­ized.

Since the costs of many agri­cul­tural prod­ucts are higher in China than in over­seas mar­kets, im­ports are pre­vent­ing the op­ti­mum con­sump­tion of do­mes­tic prod­ucts. Con­found­ing this prob­lem is the con­tin­u­ous rise in the costs of raw ma­te­ri­als and la­bor.

Waste­ful pro­duc­tion meth­ods are ag­gra­vat­ing the prob­lem of re­source short­ages; ex­ces­sive use of pes­ti­cides and fer­til­iz­ers is con­tam­i­nat­ing soil and wa­ter, com­pro­mis­ing the qual­ity of arable land; and un­der­ground wa­ter ta­bles are be­ing de­pleted quickly be­cause of un­re­stricted use of wa­ter.

Be­sides, with the con­tin­ued migration of work­ing-age peo­ple from ru­ral ar­eas to cities, mostly el­derly peo­ple have to do farm work, which is harm­ing agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion. And im­bal­anced re­source al­lo­ca­tion has been in­creas­ing the cost of agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion. A large part of China’s arable land is in the Yangtze and Pearl river delta re­gions, with abun­dant wa­ter re­sources whereas the north and west­ern re­gions are trou­bled with short­ages of wa­ter. As the grain pro­duc­tion base moves to the north, the trans­porta­tion of food to the south and wa­ter to the north has be­come very costly.

Th­ese are ma­jor prob­lems, and to tackle them, the au­thor­i­ties have to change the struc­ture and pro­duc­tion meth­ods of agri­cul­ture.

To begin with, while eval­u­at­ing agri­cul­tural prod­ucts, the au­thor­i­ties should also take into ac­count the en­vi­ron­men­tal cost — as op­posed to the cur­rent prac­tice of de­cid­ing the price on the ba­sis of in­put and out­put alone. Ev­ery fall, me­dia out­lets are full of news about bumper har­vests. But the overem­pha­sis on out­put en­cour­ages higher out­puts at the cost of the en­vi­ron­ment, and lo­cal agri­cul­tural de­part­ments go all out to achieve the pro­duc­tion goals set by their gov­ern­ments.

For in­stance, the suc­cess of the pork in­dus­try in Ji­ax­ing in Zhe­jiang prov­ince is mea­sured mainly by the num­ber of pigs pro­duced with­out tak­ing into ac­count the wa­ter pol­lu­tion it causes. This has to change, by, for ex­am­ple, shift­ing pig farms to sparsely pop­u­lated ar­eas and com­pelling them to fol­low high en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards.

Sec­ond, the way agri­cul­tural sub­si­dies are pro­vided has to change. There has been a sub­stan­tial in­crease in agri­cul­tural sub­si­dies over the past decade with a view to in­creas­ing pro­duc­tion, which should not be the aim.

Sub­si­dies for ma­chin­ery, for ex­am­ple, should be given only to farm­ers who use ma­chin­ery, since farm­ing is still done mostly by house­holds on a small scale in China. Hence, in­stead of giv­ing ev­ery farm­ing fam­ily a set of ma­chines, the gov­ern­ment could of­fer them pre­paid vouch­ers to rent the ma­chin­ery they need. This prac­tice used by most of the de­vel­oped coun­tries is one China needs to adopt.

An­other wor­ry­ing devel­op­ment is that the use of fer­til­iz­ers in China is in­creas­ing at a faster rate than that for grain out­put. The wide­spread use of an­tibi­otics and fer­til­iz­ers is en­dan­ger­ing the en­vi­ron­ment and peo­ple’s health. So, the au­thor­i­ties have to change the present agri­cul­tural devel­op­ment pat­tern and adopt one that con­serves re­sources. The Euro­pean Union uses a “seed coat­ing tech­nique” to limit the im­pact of pes­ti­cides and fer­til­iz­ers on the soil and agri­cul­tural pro­duce — to put it sim­ply, a coat­ing around the seeds pre­vents the spread of con­tam­i­na­tion to other ar­eas.

The spray ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem, which ag­gra­vates the al­ready se­ri­ous wa­ter short­age, is an­other prac­tice that China should aban­don. It should adopt drip ir­ri­ga­tion in­stead, be­cause it uses only one-tenth of the wa­ter re­quired for spray ir­ri­ga­tion.

More­over, sus­tain­able tech­nolo­gies have to be de­vel­oped to en­sure sus­tain­able growth. An ar­ti­cle pub­lished in Na­ture mag­a­zine of­fers some ad­vice. It says that though the out­put of or­ganic farm­ing is 50 to 80 per­cent that of fer­til­izer-and-pes­ti­cide-in­duced agri­cul­ture, it causes a lot less harm to wa­ter and soil.

If we con­sider fac­tors such as out­put, in­vest­ment, pol­lu­tion and sus­tain­abil­ity of the use of re­sources, or­ganic farm­ing is far more ef­fi­cient and eco-friendly than the cul­ti­va­tion meth­ods we fol­low. The au­thor is a pro­fes­sor at the School of Agri­cul­ture Eco­nomics and Ru­ral Devel­op­ment at Ren­min Uni­ver­sity of China. The views do not nec­es­sar­ily re­flect those of China Daily.

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